03.02.2013 - 08.02.2013 45 °F
I am sitting in my cabin trying to think about my trip in China and I must be honest, it’s hard for me to recollect my experience because my time in Shanghai and Hong Kong were very similar to my last voyage. I find myself thinking about my last trip as if it were just yesterday and I attribute this to the fact that I was standing in some of the same places as I had just 10 months ago, so it’s very reasonable to assume my memories would collide. The experiences are different though, both very amazing and enlightening. My goal in this post is not to describe word for word what I did in China, but rather give some insight into my observations as I traveled.
My trip in China was much shorter this time around, just two days in Shanghai and two days in Hong Kong. I had to the option to travel overland, but I decided to save money for other ports and sail with the ship. I had been in China for a week last time, and four days this time was plenty for me to see a different side. I was more focused on those around me, observing the locals and also the students as they were experiencing a communist country for the first time. I tried to recall my emotions when I entered China for the first time but even as I sit here on my bed I cannot completely remember what I was feeling. The one thing that stuck with me was the vast amount of people. I was expecting nothing less on this voyage, in fact for it to be worse because we were there right before the Chinese New Year.
Shanghai was beautiful, the skyscrapers lit up the sky at night, everything was decorated for the New Year, and everyone was much friendlier, probably because they wanted to bring in luck for their “new beginning.” I saw a few different things this time around, and my favorite was an acrobat show. Shanghai acrobats are world famous and the show we saw was phenomenal. I was at the edge of my seat almost the entire time and holding my breath hoping that no one would make a mistake and fall. The most astonishing act to me was when seven motorcycles entered a metal sphere and sped around without hitting each other. I can’t even imagine the practice it took to put on such an act, but it was my favorite thing about China this time around. The amount of dedication, balance, and training far surpassed any show I have seen in the past, including Vegas shows, so that’s saying a lot.
Shanghai also involved a lot of shopping. One can find any boutique shop that comes to mind, Gucci, Prada, Armani, etc., but they can also find all of the knock-offs in the black markets, where I showed students how to bargain for a good deal. It got me thinking about materialism though, and I am not on this voyage to shop, especially for things like that. Sure, it’s nice to have some of those products, but how can we be so obsessed with such materials? So obsessed with fancy purses, nice jackets, Nike shoes, Rolex watches or anything else when there is so much poverty in this world, and those that are impoverished are the ones making them? This is a constant struggle with me since getting home on my last voyage and witnessing the students’ attitudes on this trip. I want nice things, yes, but I can’t figure out why, except that society tells me to do so. I have changed a lot through college and through traveling the world, and the one thing a lot have noticed is that I am upset with our society and the way it, in a way, “brain-washes” citizens into feeling bad for not being like everyone else. We do not need such material things to live a happy life, which is why I will be trying my best to not buy brand-name products. I am okay with not having the most fashionable clothing anymore, the most high-tech electronics, or the most luxurious car. These companies are making more than a profit without me buying from them. I would rather save my money and focus on what matters to me than worry about a computer breaking in a few years.
Then I was noticing how students would be rude to the Chinese for not speaking English or some other thing. I feel very mixed being on this voyage with a new group of students. It’s extremely hard for me to be around students when they are being culturally insensitive, but at the same time I know they will be learning and come out a different person at the end of this voyage, it’s just a long learning process. If they haven’t changed or learned something about how to be respectful to other cultures then this voyage was a waste for them, and I strongly believe that. Cultural sensitivity among tourists, or the lack thereof, has led me to start researching how and why tourists will respect or disrespect the places and peoples they are traveling to and with. This is something that may not be answered right away, but it can definitely help me when I want to start my own organization.
Then we got into Hong Kong, a place much different from mainland China. The economy is stronger, the people are nicer, the food and water are safer, there are socialized systems like health care, and there is less pollution. However, this is due to Hong Kong being very small comparatively, about the size of Rhode Island, so it’s easier to build infrastructure and other things when there is limited space, surprisingly. My time in Hong Kong was more focused on observing the people and nature in the city. The people, in general, seemed much happier than those in China, which in turn made me, a traveler, happier because there was not a lot of negativity in the air. I also was able to visit nature, one of my favorite things and something that must be included in what I want to do with tourism. It was amazing to see these huge parks in the middle of the city with so much green and open space. I haven’t been to Central Park in New York, but I imagine it would be comparable. The parks were beautiful and for a few moments I forgot I was in a giant city. Hong Kong is huge but it didn’t feel as crowded as Shanghai and other parts of China I had visited.
Overall I felt much more comfortable traveling in these places again, something I expect for the many other countries I have been to. There is something comforting about being in a place you know, even if you have only been there for a little while. I still have the voices of my professors, family, friends, and even current students asking why I am on this voyage, why choose the same countries? Well there are many reasons for being back with Semester at Sea, but a simple answer is that travel is my passion, and I don’t care what anyone says, but I can’t get enough of any country or place I have been to, there is always something new there and something new to learn. It’s ridiculous to assume I am not learning on this voyage and that I cannot dive deeper into these cultures because I am only in these places for a short time, it just gives me a better taste and will continue bringing me back, maybe not through SAS, but through a career in travel. The biggest thing I am learning is about me, but an analysis of that will come at the end of my voyage and when I return home.
For now I will end with this quote by Miriam Beard, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
I hope all is well with wherever you are and what you are doing. Sending lots of love.